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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 10

 

 

Verse 1

MISCELLANEOUS PROVERBS

Ecclesiastes 10:1

"Dead flies cause the ointment of the perfumer to send forth an evil odor; so doth a little folly outweigh wisdom and honor."

This proverb is actually an illustration of the last verses of Ecclesiastes 9. A little folly by a single sinner can destroy much good. Also there is discernible in it another application. A little folly can destroy the beauty and effectiveness of a noble character, in the same manner that a few dead flies in a small jar of expensive perfume can totally ruin it.


Verse 2

"A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left."

"A wise man's heart (intelligence + conscience + will) will lead him in a right direction; but that of a fool has a sinister bent."[1]


Verse 3

"Yea, also, when a fool walketh by the way, his understanding faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool."

Moffatt rendered this: "Even on a walk the fool shows lack of sense, for he calls everyone a fool."[2] This reminds this writer of a traffic sign on a very dangerous curve on an old Tennessee highway many years ago. It read, "Slow Down!" "You Might Meet Another Fool."


Verse 4

"If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for gentleness allayeth great offences."

Deane believed that this referred to some situation in which a person appointed to some place of service to the ruler (king) should not hastily resign because of some displeasure that might be manifested by the king.[3] We might paraphrase it by saying, "Don't run when accused, they might think you are guilty"!


Verse 5

"There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as it were an error which proceedeth from the ruler: folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking like servants upon the earth."

The teaching of these verses regards the proper conduct of kings and rulers, who should exercise the greatest care in the choice of men whom they elevate to high office. Rehoboam was guilty of the very error cited here. He chose as his advisors and appointees the senseless young fools with whom he had grown up in Solomon's harem; and they promptly lost the kingdom.

The very fact of this advice regarding the way king's should rule would hardly have been addressed by Solomon to any others than to the children and young men of his own harem, another strong indication that Solomon is indeed the author. Adam Clarke cited the government (in England) of Cardinal Woolsey and Thomas a Becket as a wanton violator of what is taught here.[4]

Any government, especially that of an autocratic ruler, that elevates unworthy men to positions of honor and compels the true nobility of the land to stand as their inferiors is headed for disaster. As Clarke said, "Not only have a few sovereigns who did such things had very uncomfortable and troublesome reigns; but some have even lost their lives, or their kingdoms."[5]


Verse 8

"He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh through a wall, a serpent shall bite him."

Haman's being hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai is the classical example of what is meant by the first line. Regarding the second line, "Breaking through a fence, one is stung by a serpent lurking in the stones of his neighbor's garden wall."[6]


Verse 9

"Whoso heweth out stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood is endangered thereby."

These truisms have the simple meaning that certain tasks carry with them an element of risk and danger. "If you work in a stone quarry, you get hurt by stones; if you split wood, you get hurt doing it."[7] The spiritual application of this is that if one is engaged in any kind of an enterprise or activity that is designed to defraud or damage other people, it will most certainly be the same thing which happens to him.


Verse 10

"If the iron be blunt, and one do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength; but wisdom is profitable to direct."

In this, the author is still talking about cleaving wood; and the iron here is a reference to the axe. "If the axe is blunt and the edge unwhetted, more strength must be put into the blow; successful skill comes from shrewd sense."[8]; Ecclesiastes 10:8-9 were summarized as saying, "Every job has its dangers."[9] This verse (1) is paraphrased: "Wisdom can make any job easier; if a person sharpens the knife (axe) the job is easier. Wisdom is like that."[10]


Verse 11

"If the serpent bite before it is charmed, then is there no advantage to the charmer."

"If the snake-charmer is unwise in the practice of his craft, he may be bitten like anyone else."[11] "Knowing how to charm a snake is of no use if you let the snake bite you first"![12] A spiritual application is that, "Knowing what to do to be saved is of no use to the man who puts it off till death overtakes him."


Verse 12

THOUGHTS REGARDING FOOLS

"The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness; and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. A fool also multiplieth words: yet man knoweth not what shall be; and that which shall be after him, who can tell him? The labor of fools wearieth every one of them; for he knoweth not how to go to the city."

"The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious, etc." (Ecclesiastes 10:12). Delitzsch rendered this verse: "The words of the wise are heart-winning, and those of the fool self-destructive."[13] Of all the dangers that confront us, that of unwise speech is perhaps the greatest. "By the words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matthew 12:37). How many kind words which are never spoken would have blessed and encouraged some struggling brother! How many critical or flippant remarks have left indelible marks upon aching hearts! O God, help us properly to control and to use the tongue!

"The beginning of the words (of the fool) is foolishness ... and the end mischievous madness" (Ecclesiastes 10:13). This verse makes it clear why the words of the fool are self-destructive. "In scripture, the fool is not dull but wicked. His speech begins, not with God, but with foolishness, and the end of it is wicked madness."[14] "His words are folly from the start, and they end in mad mischief."[15]

"A fool also multiplieth words, yet man knoweth not what shall be, etc." (Ecclesiastes 10:14). Waddey gave the meaning here as a warning that, "The fool talks too much about things of which he is ignorant."[16]

"The labor of fools wearieth every one of them; for he knoweth not how to go to the city" (Ecclesiastes 10:15). Rankin rendered this: "Fool's labor wears him out, for he does not know how to go to town."[17]

Another bit of wisdom in connection with speech is that silence is better that talk. "President Abraham Lincoln gave us his own proverb on this: `It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt'!"[18]


Verse 16

"Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning."

"A country is in trouble when its king is a youth, and its leaders feast all night long."[19]


Verse 17

"Happy art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness."

"But a country is fortunate to have a king who makes his own decisions and leaders who eat at the proper time, who control themselves and don't get drunk."[20]


Verse 18

"By slothfulness the roof sinketh in; and through idleness of the hands the house leaketh."

In all probability this is only another ordinary proverb against sloth or laziness; however, Barton suggested that, taken in connection with the two preceding verses, "It might be intended as a hint that when the princes of a state give themselves to revelry, the structure of government would fall into ruin."[21]


Verse 19

"A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh glad the life; and money answereth all things."

"Feasting makes you happy, and wine cheers you up, but you can't have either without money."[22] "Men make a feast for enjoyment, and wine makes life pleasant, but money is everyone's concern."[23] This relationship between drinking wine and feasting on the one hand, and providing the funds to pay for it on the other hand, reminds us of a song that became popular back during the days of the depression, "If you've got the money, Honey, I've got the time."


Verse 20

"Revile not the king, no, not in thy thought; and revile not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird in the heavens will carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter."

This is a warning against any kind of seditious talk against a monarch and against even the entertainment of any uncomplimentary thoughts regarding such a ruler; because, the nature of human gossips being what it is, the account of your words will be relayed to the ruler, "In a manner as rapid and as marvelously as if birds or winged messengers had carried the information to the king."[24]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/ecclesiastes-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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